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Basketball event to benefit children’s smiles

Rhonda costa-landers

Molly Walt was involved in a charity basketball tournament for the community last year as a mentor for Carson High School student Katie Keller’s senior project.

This year, Walt wanted to be involved again – only to have a charity benefit from the process. She chose Shriners Hospital in Portland, Ore. The hospital specializes in cleft palate and cleft lip defects.

The “Wide Smiles Classic” youth basketball tournament is for children in grades 5 through 8. The tournament began Jan. 3 with 48 teams.

Winners have been determined in five divisions: boys, fifth grade, The Mavericks; girls, fifth grade, The Sparks; boys, sixth grade, The Jazz; girls, sixth grade, The Jammers; and girls, seventh and eighth grade combined team, The Bobcats.

Boys combined seventh-eighth grades will compete at 8:15 tonight at the Carson City Community Center gymnasium. The two final teams are The Bulldogs and The Rockets. Admission is free, and the tournament is open to the public.

Walt’s drive behind the tournament has a personal connection. Her 26-month-old son, Kaden, was born with a cleft palate. His twin sister, Chloe, was not.

One of every 700 newborns is affected by cleft lip and/or cleft palate. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth in which the two sides of the palate did not fuse as the fetus was developing.

“I want to raise my son with the empowerment that it’s OK to live with it,” Walt said. She and husband, Kyle, and the twins live in Indian Hills.

“This is the first time I’ve done anything like (a tournament fund-raiser). Being a middle-school teacher, it has been fun. This is right up my alley.”

Walt left her teaching job with the Carson City School District to tutor.

Through concession sales, raffle tickets and entry fees, more than $3,000 has been raised. Walt hopes to hit $4,000 after today’s final game.

A silent auction includes autographed basketball jerseys of Antawn Jamison and Doug Christie, golf packages at Eagle Valley Golf Course and Silver Oaks and many raffle prizes.

Walt said Kaden’s defect was discovered during an ultrasound exam.

“It’s totally fixable,” she said. “His lip was sutured at 3 months, his palate sutured at 1 year. And 30 percent of patients develop a fistula and will require another surgery. Kaden’s big surgery will happen after his adult teeth come in, about age 8 or 9. Then doctors will take a bone graft from his hip and repair his gumline.”

A plastic surgeon does the initial work; an oral surgeon does the gum surgery. Walt said the doctors belong to a support group in Reno.

“When this happened, our first question was ‘Why us?,'” Walt said. “They say it’s genetic. But my husband and I checked, and it’s nowhere in our genes. We went to a genetics counselor, and we’re still asking, ‘Why us?’ You always hope your children would be healthy, you think they’d be perfect.

“Then I got prepared, I read a lot of material. And when the twins were born, six weeks premature, and I saw him, I honestly didn’t see it. I didn’t notice. You prepare yourself mentally, and when the time comes, it was a minor thing compared to the whole experience.”

Walt said the experience has not at all been what she thought it would be. But she’s doing what she can for her son to learn to live with a cleft palate.

“The best I can do is empower him and raise him with self confidence. To handle teasing or whatever will come his way, because you know it will.”

Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-1223.